James Graham was among the Bulldogs' best against Melbourne in Mackay
Photo: Getty Images
The main game
The final scoreline between the Bulldogs and Storm was 20-4, and that tells one story. A different score tells a bigger story: forty-three to zero. That is the number of times each team was stopped inside the opposing 20m zone in the second half.
The Storm were tackled 43 times in its red zone in the last 40 minutes but registered just a solitary unconverted try. The Bulldogs' last ditch defence was magnificent, refusing to buckle and withstanding wave after wave of purple attacking raids. By contrast the Dogs had no ball at the opposite end of the ground, but broke through for two excellent runaway tries to seal victory.
The heroes for the Bulldogs were the men in the middle: Aiden Tolman (made 41 tackles, missed none), Michael Ennis (51 and 1), James Graham (40 and none) and David Stagg (39 and 1). The man who enlivened the contest however was Mackay's own Ben Barba who opened the scoring with an acrobatic try. He set up the final score of the match with a typically spectacular sprint from deep within his own in-goal, swerving around defenders, until a pinpoint kick forward set up Josh Morris for a Try of the Season contender. Five-eighth Josh Reynolds continued to impress, as did boom recruit Krisnan Inu.
For Melbourne the match was an exercise in frustration. The team looks out of shape in attack with Gareth Widdop deputising at fullback. Cooper Cronk's last-tackle kicks lacked menace, and too often the Storm's attack revolved around one-out runs. An unlucky no-try obstruction ruling in the second half stuffed any chance of a comeback, but for the duration of the game Melbourne looked robotic in contrast to the daring Dogs. It was not a catastrophic loss for the Storm, but the win stamped Canterbury as a genuine title contender this year.
Ever tried playing footy with a sock full of stitches down your shin? It doesn't seem to bother Corey Parker. The classy backrower ran 139m, made six tackle busts and a heroic 59 tackles in his first game back after the Origin injury.
Matt Srama was magnificent in a losing side. The titchy Titans hooker ran 83m and made 57 tackles without a miss. His effort was more meritorious given the damage he copped from a nasty Dean Young elbow.
Nathan Hindmarsh's face after the Eels 90th minute win at Penrith was the highlight of the round. Hindy was amazing in both attack and defence, showing creativity in his ball play that wound the clock back a decade. He finished with the brilliant stats of 199m running, nine tackle breaks, six offloads and 43 tackles. Herculean.
Matt Bowen might not be as quick on his feet as he used to be, but he is still lightning-fast between the ears. His ability to read the play is something to marvel at. He laid on the first three tries for the Cowboys, after which it was game over.
Well done to the Bulldogs for taking matches into rural areas. The crowd at Mackay, on a wintry day, was better than the crowd at WIN Stadium on Friday night.
Tony 'T-Rex' Williams doesn't know what timid means. In his first game back from injury he ran with authority and tackled with gusto. His back-row partner Anthony Watmough was even better, running 141m, breaking seven tackles and laying 34 of his own. Small wonder Ricky Stuart selected both men in his 19-man Blues squad for Origin 3.
Not one Titans back made 100m with ball in hand against the Dragons, and the team finished the match without a single line break.
John Sutton and Adam Reynolds made a combined 53 tackles against the Broncos. All credit to them for their work ethic, but that is way too much defensive involvement for a halves pairing and must blunt their attacking efforts.
Yes, it's a great cause, but the pink strips (Broncos, Cowboys et al) are an aesthetic nightmare. Plus we got a terrible hankering for strawberry milk while watching the pink Panthers.
Bittersweet performances for two forwards in the Dragons-Titans game. Dan Hunt ran 160m and made 34 tackles but butchered a certain try, while opponent Nate Myles rumbled 177m but gave away the two penalties that gave the Dragons victory
The Roosters' defensive effort, which would have been bettered by wet tissue paper.
Souths were brave on Friday night but any hopes they had of victory were cruelled by dodgy refereeing decisions. Just because the Broncs were in pink didn't mean the men-usually-in-pink had to see things their way.
Quote of the week
"What can I say? It's just like being hit by a big refrigerator." – Josh Hoffman on being mown down, twice, by huge Greg Inglis tackles.
Warren Smith is a good caller, but for the first 70 minutes he sounded like he was at a funeral when forced to sit through the battle of the two bottom teams on a winter's night in Penrith. Pro tip, Waz: always put a little extra something in the thermos for nights like that.
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